The Vanishing Brand


The Vanishing Brand

by Amy Lignor


This roof was once a familiar sight that you knew you would see no matter where you were headed in New England. Whether you were going to ring the Liberty Bell or traveling from your own small town to Washington, D.C. to soak up all the really neat things inside the Smithsonian, Howard Johnson would Howard Johnson, RCA, Woolworths, Montgomery Wards, PaineWebber, American culturebe there along the way. Now, the news is that only one is left. In just a couple of weeks, one of the last two Howard Johnson restaurants in America will close its doors and the orange roof with blue spire will no longer be there for drivers to visit. Baby boomers may have been nourished at this locale, but the kids of the eighties also remember the orange roof because we could scream out from the backseat at our parents up front to “STOP!! We want ice cream!” Which Dad would do because he wanted a cup of coffee and an order of waffles or a cheeseburger, depending on the hour.


There was a time Howard Johnson’s took off. It soared financially and made restaurant franchises the “in” thing to become a part of for all entrepreneurs. Predating the hotel chain, this New England-based restaurant chain began in 1925 and once totaled 800. Mr. Johnson inherited a small soda fountain outside Boston which evolved into this chain offering up the best in comfort foods, including those unforgettable twenty-eight flavors of ice cream. In Bangor, Maine, this particular Howard Johnson Restaurant and Lounge boasted the likes of Stephen King (who lives in Bangor) as a person who stopped by frequently to grab a patty melt. Now, with this closing, the HoJo’s in Lake George becomes the sole survivor attempting to keep the name alive.


This closing makes you think of all those “names” that are long gone and will never return. From the financial industry to transportation to department stores, there are those that are part of peoples’ memories that will, sadly, never exist in the memories of their children.


Financially, there have been more than a few to close their doors. Everything from the stock market fall to cheating scams (Enron, anyone?) has taken them out for good. But there were some strong names that people counted on once upon a time. PaineWebber, in fact, could never brag about being the largest brokerage on Wall Street, but it was once a most trusted name.

Add to that A.G. Edwards & Sons as well as the man who always listened – E.F. Hutton – and the list goes on.


When it comes to the roadways, we lost many, including the Pullman Palace Car Company in Illinois which lasted more than a century. And when it comes to the skies, Eastern, which started out as the mail carrier for the United States Postal Service back in the mid-1920s, before expanding and taking over air travel on the East Coast, went bankrupt in 1989. But they weren’t the only ones. TWA was knocked out of the sky after peaking in the early 1980s; while one of the most popular, Pan Am, broke in 1991. Although, the latter is one company that, even though it is no longer, became so much a part of American pop culture that the logo is still found on designer travel bags.


All the way back to 1919, RCA was around, selling radios and entering the broadcasting world. It was in 1929 that it bought out the Victor Talking Machine company, henceforth becoming RCA Victor with that famous dog in all he ads. But…alas, GE took it over in 1986 and the RCA “entity” disappeared.


The single sheet catalog belonging to Montgomery Ward can actually fetch cash as an historical item, if you happen to have one buried in the closet. It was back in 1872 that Montgomery Ward began that catalog and, in 1926, the first retail store was created. Weakening, struggling over the decades, it barely made it through the year 2000. And when the last of the Montgomery Ward stores closed in 2001, people actually cried.


Woolworth’s was also there with them. They ran with the times as shopping malls came into the American focus. Woolworth’s expanded and bought out other stores with names like Foot Locker. But the fast expansion proved to be the company’s downfall. 1997 saw the last Woolworth’s closed, and in 2001 a change of name to, you guessed it, Foot Locker. Now Foot Locker is in the headlines stating they will be closing some stores very soon.


As all the ‘comfort’ names cease operations, it proves that no matter how the country is “growing,” the question of whether or not it’s all worth it remains to be answered.

Source:  Baret News


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